Quora Question: When Did Presidents Start Using Speechwriters?

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial towers over the South Dakota landscape on October 1, 2013, near Keystone, South Dakota. From left to right, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln. Scott Olson/Getty

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Answer from Ross Cohen:

When did presidents start outsourcing the writing of their speeches? According to Robert Schlesinger, son of noted John F. Kennedy speechwriter Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and author of White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, "Judson Welliver, 'literary clerk' during the Harding administration, from 1921 to 1923, is generally considered the first presidential speechwriter in the modern sense—someone whose job description includes helping to compose speeches." FDR had a number of people helping him. That said, some of it started right from the beginning, to some extent. Not outsourcing, per se, at least not consistently, but certainly collaboration.

The first draft of George Washington's famous farewell address was prepared with the assistance of James Madison, five years before he ultimately delivered it. Years later, Alexander Hamilton put in a lot of work helping Washington revise it before it reached its final form.

James Monroe delivered his famous doctrine in a State of the Union Address, but it was primarily written by his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams.

"When James K. Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war against Mexico in 1846, his words were written by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, the most distinguished American historian of the time," according to Profiles of U.S. Presidents. "Years later Bancroft was again the presidential amanuensis, this time of Andrew Johnson."

According to the same source, Woodrow Wilson was the last to write his own speeches.

After Wilson came Harding, who was the first with a dedicated speechwriter, though I'm not sure if his immediate successors Coolidge and Hoover had one as well. Once they were through it became a little clearer as FDR is known to have used a number of ghost writers for his speeches.

While modern presidents are known to rely heavily on professional speechwriters for everything from minor remarks at a luncheon to major addresses like the State of the Union, presidents are typically more involved than simply reading them. They might mention a few ideas to a speechwriter or comment on drafts to be rewritten. President Obama is an accomplished writer in his own right and was known to take an active role in the drafting of his speeches, sometimes even writing the first draft or heavily editing through multiple drafts.

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